Dagestan celebrates Khabib’s win over ‘chicken’ McGregor

Huge crowds gathered to watch the fight in the Russian region on Sunday morning

A traffic police officer attempts to stop a car as supporters of Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC lightweight champion who defeated Conor McGregor of Ireland in the main event of UFC 229, celebrate in Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan. Photo: Reuters

A traffic police officer attempts to stop a car as supporters of Russia’s Khabib Nurmagomedov, UFC lightweight champion who defeated Conor McGregor of Ireland in the main event of UFC 229, celebrate in Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan. Photo: Reuters

 

Twelve hours before Khabib Nurmagomedov choked out Conor McGregor to retain his UFC lightweight title in Las Vegas, children nearly 7,000 miles away were beating a punching bag that hung under a sign that read “Knock the chicken’s teeth out!” The bag, attached to a lifelike model of an octagon cage inhabited by likenesses of Nurmagomedov and McGregor, was part of the pre-fight festivities in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.

There’s no question who the “chicken” was in this scenario. Nurmagomedov is Dagestani, and the crowd was here to watch their hometown hero fight McGregor, the brash former champ from Ireland who had engaged in a lengthy campaign of verbal and physical aggression toward his opponent leading up to this fight.

Nurmagomedov’s father and coach, Abdulmanap, was unable to attend the fight when his visa to enter the United States was denied. So he helped organise a collective viewing of the fight for about 800 fans, government officials and Dagestani athletes here at a theatre in the city centre.

Around midnight local time, eight hours before the fight, the theatre was full. Hundreds more fans blocked traffic outside and danced to music while the police tried to keep order. Some rode horses and one even clutched an eagle — a symbol of Dagestan, and Nurmagomedov’s nickname. The air filled with the smell of burned rubber from the tires of cars squealing on the streets nearby. “Everyone will forgive them today,” one officer said. “Especially if Khabib wins.”

Inside the theater, Abdulmanap Nurmagomedov answered questions from the audience before slipping out of the main hall to a nearby room to watch the fight. When McGregor appeared on the main screen, a whistle was heard in the cinema, followed by loud screams as the fight started.

On the screen, the crowd watched as Khabib Nurmagomedov controlled the early rounds. When McGregor tapped out of a choke hold in the fourth round, the audience filled the hall with celebratory screams and people began to dance in the aisles. Many didn’t notice the post-fight melee that occurred in Las Vegas after Nurmagomedov, now 27-0, climbed over the top of the cage and attacked members of McGregor’s corner, who he said had been taunting him during the fight. While order was restored outside the cage, members of Nurmagomedov’s entourage entered the octagon and traded punches with McGregor.

“Khabib did everything right,” one of the spectators said. “A man should be responsible for his words. He made him answer.”

Khabib holds his champions belt next to his father Abdulmanap (c) upon arrival at the Anzhi-arena stadium in Makhachkala. Photo: Vasily Maximov/Reuters
Khabib holds his champions belt next to his father Abdulmanap (c) upon arrival at the Anzhi-arena stadium in Makhachkala. Photo: Vasily Maximov/Reuters

Nurmagomedov’s father didn’t join in the celebration, which soon reached a fever pitch outside the theatre. He seemed upset at his son’s actions in the moments after the fight and, after moving to the front of the crowd with a megaphone, he asked the crowd to calmly go home. The square emptied, though a small group of people remained behind to discuss the details of the fight.

“If there will be a rematch,” one of them said, “he will destroy the chicken again.” – New York Times service

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